That’s what they say. You’ve heard it, too…
“You must have a regular writing schedule.”
“Writing every day is a job like any other job.”
“Writers don’t have the time. They make the time.”
But today, maybe all you did was laundry, gardening, carpools, and groceries. Maybe the day was all emails, phone calls, and successfully-led meetings. Maybe it was get the drywall up, the house strung, or the wall painted. Maybe you helped an ailing family member, or counseled someone back from a ledge, or increased your mile running time, or got a baby fed and changed and to sleep—over and over, or shook off a persistent malaise enough to get showered, dressed and meet a friend for coffee.
So, you don’t feel like a real writer.
First of all—that’s all you did today? ALL of that??? Look at you. You’re the bomb! You’ve accomplished so much. And you know what you’re also going to do next? You’re going to create a regular writing routine.
Here’s How (and more importantly, Why)
I conquered my own struggles in this regard when I could no longer stand this: I had a completed draft of a novel, sitting on my desk for a year, unrevised. My problem, or so I thought, was that I knew the ending wasn’t right, but I wasn’t sure how to fix it.
That’s what I told myself. The truth was, I wasn’t appropriately addressing a thing we artists call “Resistance.” In a genius little book called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, he says this:
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
This was what I was dealing with, along with a few personal and family transitions. But finally, I could no longer stand the fact that this second novel, which I love and want to share with the world, was languishing in my computer, while the years began to add up since I’d released my first.
But what to do?
I needed to be realistic and honest with myself. I am what I am. I knew I was a writer but not just a writer, and I also knew these things:
- No writing schedule I had ever devised had worked for me for more than a few weeks, if I ever implemented it at all.
- If I sat down and wrote regularly, my writing would improve, my story would come together, I would complete this work, and then the next.
- I cannot write fiction late at night. Nonfiction, yes. (Guess when I’m writing this?) Fiction, no. Not being a morning person, I don’t write early in the morning. A groggy brain does not a great work of fiction create!
- While my family and my web of community and relationships is a higher priority to me than writing, money is not. I had specifically created writing space in my schedule by turning down full-time, 8-5 jobs that would mean more money and a more comfortable life (and retirement), but would also consume my best writing hours and creativity. I just needed to make the most of that space.
- After examining my life, and for various reasons having to do with all the other things I am as well as being a writer, I determined this: I could realistically carve out Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, from mid-morning until mid-afternoon, before I left for my day job (or in my case, afternoon/night job).
- We’re talking about approximately 10-12 hours per week of writing time.
Now you’re thinking, “Lisa, what can you get done in 10-12 hours per week?”
Well, I’ll tell you. In under six weeks, I’d figured out the moral dilemma that had kept me from finishing that novel for a year, rewrote the ending, rewrote the entire novel (with a couple additional chapters), and sent it off to my editor. How?
Because Writers write.
It’s true. But every writer is unique, just like every story. In my case, I’d devised a schedule that had me sitting down to write, guilt free, no distractions, during my best writing time. I couldn’t write during my best writing time every day, but I could write during my best writing time those days. So I did some of the best fiction writing I’ve managed in years.
Be realistic and as honest as you can be with yourself. You’re not some starry-eyed, romantic writer in a garret, getting chilblains while writing feverishly until sunrise when you drag yourself through the twilight streets of foggy London to your factory job…or maybe you are! Maybe midnight to 2 AM is your time. This may take some experimentation, but just be honest.
Where does writing fall in your list of highest priorities? What lower priority items are you willing to sacrifice to create realistic and sustainable space for writing? Yes, it is actually true, “Magic has a price.”
Where is that space in your schedule…?
Space when you can be awake, focused, and get to an environment that’s conducive to your writing style. That’s your writing time. It doesn’t matter when it is, or how many hours. We all have those hours somewhere, we just don’t take advantage of them because resistance tells us they’re not enough – we’re not enough. But it will be enough, and so are you. Mark those hours off on your calendar and guard them with your life.
Enjoy the freedom of not having that annoying, derisive voice in your head whispering, “You should be writing.”
Remember I said I’d tell you why you should create a regular writing schedule? It’s not because this is what it takes to finish something, nor because this is what it takes to be a professional writer and get published. Regular writing is a crucial part of the equation, it sets you up for success, but there are no guarantees.
The BEST thing about establishing a regular writing routine (and I wish someone had explained this to me years ago) is this: It shuts down that unhelpful, guilt-inducing voice driving you crazy. As a wise man once said, there is a time for everything under the sun. And there is a time to write. If this isn’t one of the hours you’ve put on your calendar to write, this is not the time to write. Tell that voice to quiet down—then go enjoy your life.
Or as Stephen King said in On Writing, “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
When those hours come around that you’ve carved out of your schedule, whether you’re feeling it or not, sit down with your writing implement of choice, and write. It doesn’t have to be perfect at first or even good (see Miss Hilarey’s Monday Meditation). Just write. Because Writers write. And so you do.
Beliefs represented by individual authors are not necessarily shared by all members of ICW.